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Darnell Washington has turned heads this spring.

Georgia football winners and losers at the halfway point of spring practice

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Georgia football winners and losers at the halfway point of spring practice

Winner: Todd Monken

Just the simple fact that Georgia is getting a spring practice this season is a big boost for Monken as he enters the second year as Georgia’s offensive coordinator.

In talking to players, you get the feeling Monken really enjoys getting to be hands-on and teach out on the practice field as opposed to a Zoom call.

“I’m much more comfortable in coach Monken’s system,” offensive tackle Warren McClendon said. “You actually get to be hands-on and ask questions. We get to see things on the board and stuff like that.”

The early returns — aside from the injuries — have been positive for the Georgia offense. Kirby Smart has routinely brought up that the offense is ahead of the defense at this point and that Monken’s offense is in about the same spot that it was at the midpoint of the 2020 season.

Georgia needs a big season out of its offense, especially with all it must replace on the defensive side of the ball. That starts with Monken and will trickle down to the rest of the Georgia team.

Monken’s job became more difficult once George Pickens went down with his knee injury. But it is not something that Georgia cannot overcome. Monken will just have to go deeper into his bag and playbook.

Loser: Skill player injuries

This is to this point the biggest story from spring practice. First, Kenny McIntosh suffered an elbow injury that knocked him out for the remainder of spring after Georgia’s first padded practice. Then at the next practice,  Pickens suffered a torn ACL that will require surgery.

A week after Pickens was lost for the foreseeable future, Jermaine Burton suffered a knee injury of his own. While it is not as serious of an injury as Pickens’, Burton is now also expected to miss the remainder of spring practice.

Georgia entered the month with Dominick Blaylock and Marcus Rosemy-Jacksaint still working their way back from season-ending injuries during the 2020 season.

Related: Georgia football WR George Pickens targeting return in 2021, Kirby Smart optimistic 

The mounting injuries are just an unfortunate part of a violent game. This is nothing new for Georgia, as the wide receiver position was similarly snake-bitten in 2019.

This spring was going to be so important for the continued development of the Georgia offense. The wide receiver room figured to be a strength for Georgia for once. Now there are questions once again, especially with Pickens being a massive question mark for the 2021 season.

Without Pickens, Burton, Blaylock and Rosemy-Jacksaint, Kearis Jackson will shoulder a bigger load come G-Day. Georgia will also get more reps for young receivers such as Arian Smith, Adonai Mitchell and Justin Robinson.

Winner: Travon Walker 

As expected, Smart has been tight-lipped about which players have been standing out so far this spring. He’s reluctant to hand out praise and will always be that way.

But the way he brought up Walker, unprompted, turned a lot of heads as to what should be expected from the junior defensive end.

“Travon is the guy that’s got to have a big year for us,” Smart told reporters earlier in March. “Not only is he replacing Malik [Herring] but in a lot of ways he’s replacing Azeez [Ojulari]. I think everybody just assumes with Azeez being gone that it’s Nolan [Smith]’s job. It’s not like that for us. Sixty to 70 percent of the snaps, Travon is Azeez and Nolan is Azeez.”

Walker to his credit seems ready to take on a bigger and more important role in the Georgia defense. The defensive lineman has mentioned improving his conditioning as well as better hand usage as ways he can go about improving this fall.

A lot is expected of Walker this fall, especially as Georgia must replace a not-insignificant amount of production from its outside linebacker room.

Walker knows this and is ready to show not just Georgia fans but the SEC at large why he was one of the top prospects in the 2019 recruiting class.

Related: Travon Walker knows Georgia needs a big year from him and he’s ready for it

Loser: Offensive line clarity 

With Georgia being so tight-lipped this spring, we haven’t learned a whole lot about the Georgia offensive line. We know Justin Shaffer, Jamaree Salyer and Warren McClendon are leaders on the line to this point. But where they might end up playing is still a mystery.

Salyer, McClendon and Shaffer all cross-train at other positions on the offensive line. What seems to be holding everything else from being sorted out is the left tackle position.

Amarus Mims and Broderick Jones have both had their ups and downs. But Xavier Truss, who started at left tackle for the Peach Bowl, isn’t to be discounted yet either.

He has been out there this spring competing, (and) I think he is doing a lot better with the mental side of things, like picking it up,” Smart said. “Coach (Matt) Luke really challenges him to play with more energy and more passion. He is one of those guys who doesn’t really show it a lot. 

“He doesn’t play with a lot of emotion, and sometimes you want that emotion to come out and show some personality when you have a good block and when you compete really hard, but he has gained a lot of confidence.”

Related: Georgia OT Xavier Truss has size, but can he find SEC intensity?

How the offensive line shakes out on G-Day, set for April 17, will be very telling for where the offensive line stands. But it’s clear this position group battle will continue to wage into August and likely into the season.

Once Georgia figures out the left tackle position, it will have a better idea of where Salyer, Shaffer and McClendon can best perform.

Winner: Georgia tight end position

While there are legitimate concerns about what the wide receiver position looks like, the tight end position has emerged as a position of strength for Georgia this spring.

Sophomore Darnell Washington has earned constant praise this spring, specifically for how he’s improved in the mental portion of the game.

“He’s grown a lot. He’s a lot smarter. He’s in better condition. He’s in better mental toughness state,” Smart said. “Part of being a good player is pushing through practice and being able to sustain. He struggled to sustain through tough practices last year. He’s done that this year. He’s practiced a little harder.

“He’s doing some good things. He’s still really big. He’s 275, 280 pounds. He’s a different kind of matchup guy.”

Georgia also brings back the reliable John FitzPatrick and the intriguing Brock Bowers. Even within the tight end room, Georgia has a variety tight ends it can throw at opposing defenses. It’s got a behemoth in Washington, while Bowers looks like the quicker and faster option.

With the injuries to Georgia’s wide receivers, Georgia will look more to its tight ends and running backs to help supplant the loss of Pickens. Fans have been clamoring for the tight ends to get more involved in the passing game.

Now it seems like the stars are aligning for that to happen.

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